One goal of Texas Baptists' Hispanic Education Initiative (HEI) is to encourage the pursuit of college education in Hispanic churches. In a unique effort to achieve that goal, HEI hosts a summer missionary program, which gives Hispanic college students the opportunity to serve as mentors for high school students.
These missionaries, after accepting a call from God to help others similar to them, work with the youth in the church one-on-one and in group settings to give them tips, personal testimonies and past experiences when they were also in high school.
"I have a passion for students who don't have the means for getting an education or think they're not capable," said Nohemi Rodriguez, a soon-to-be graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. "I beat the statistics, and if I can beat it, they can too. I hope God can use me and education to show the students what He's capable of. When we trust in Him, He can do so much."
Each week, the missionaries meet with a student, meet with their parents, plan events to meet new students and spread information. The missionaries are encouraged to hold seminars and informational meetings about taking the SAT and ACT, and how to approach application.
Lack of the proper funds to afford a college education is one of the most prevalent reasons why Hispanic students choose to not enter college. So, in addition, to the admissions process, the missionaries speak with the family of each student to discuss financial options and how to apply for federal student aid.
The student missionaries discuss scholarship opportunities and become as involved with the students' educational goals as possible by taking them on college visits and meetings with guidance counselors. One such resource is $1,000 scholarships awarded annually to qualifying and selected Hispanic students through HEI. This year, 30 students received scholarships at the Hispanic Baptist Convention held in Austin.
The outcome of the program is not only to encourage education in the Hispanic community, but also to further show them God's love and His plan for their lives. Through the guidance of the missionaries, what once they thought was an impossible goal is now much more easily attainable.
"They're starting to realize that life's not going to be perfect, but that doesn't mean God doesn't love them or that they can't trust God," said Jon Silva, a missionary at Calvary's Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist Church. "They're slowly starting to have faith in God, and it's more than I could ever ask for."
According to Gabriel Cortes, the director of HEI, the biggest struggle for the high school youth is getting past the mindset of "here and now." The summer missionaries are trained to teach them to look into the future and realize that all the work to get an education will pay off in the long run.
"We want to help them think beyond that and start to think about what their dreams are, what their aspirations are, what their passions are and help them think how to maximize those," Cortes said. "Just get them to move away from survival mode and to thriving mode where they're pursuing goals and are focused."
In addition to work in the summer, the summer missionaries are given the task of appointing a correspondent for each church who can continue to follow up with the students and keep giving them scholarship information and encouragement.
Whether this is the missionary his or herself or another experienced member of the church, the HEI stresses the importance of staying in touch and following through with the students.
Olivia Williams, a journalism student from Baylor, is currently serving as a joint Communications Intern for both the Baptist Standard and the Texas Baptists.